The late 1990′s is an interesting time for me personally. I had graduated high school and jumped square into adulthood which consisted of me going to college and feeling like I had a lot to learn. So things hadn’t really changed much, but the world was my oyster and it was filled with the sounds of The Offspring and Garbage. For those who aren’t aware, Garbage is a band. I was starting to watch an awful lot of movies as well and The Faculty was my introduction, strange to say, to Robert Rodriguez. When I first finished watching The Faculty I didn’t run out and devour everything I could find about the director. In fact, I think his name barely registered. But I did watch Desperado soon after and I made the connection. Then I watched From Dusk Till Dawn. I didn’t say I ever did things in the right order, but that’s when I really took notice and thought about Robert Rodriguez. Then he made the Spy Kids films which gave me a chance to take notice of a whole other film loving world which is why we’re where we are now.
In many ways you could say The Faculty is a defining moment in my early film loving life. I wouldn’t have known it at the time. And that’s not to say the film is without flaw, because it’s far from perfect. But it is fun. But beyond that, there are so many elements present that are perfect to me. It really does feel like going back to high school for me. The music, the style. The clothes. The attitudes. Josh Hartnett may not be my alter ego, thank god, but I can see myself in all of these kids through some point of my high school life. And then there’s the whole other side of the equation, the one that calls out to the geek I would become. Back in 1998 I’d have no idea who Piper Laurie is, even though I had seen her in Twin Peaks and Carrie without making any sort of connection. I’d have no idea who Harry Knowles was yet I’m friends with him on Facebook and I visit his website nearly every day. Just looking at those two individuals alone accounts for so much of who I am now and what my interests are. How bizarre is that? This is a film that’s a great mash up of my recently out of high school self and my current film geek self. So it should go without saying that maybe I’m a little beyond being able to think objectively about this film.
So with that out of the way, let’s talk about the actual film, shall we? It’s set in anywhere Ohio and right off the bat we’re introduced to exactly what kind of film we have in store with the football coach (Robert Patrick, yes, that Robert Patrick!) driving a pencil through his boss’ palm, apparently because he’s always wanted to do that. And because he’s an alien. There’s very little build up to the first horror sequence, we get some information about the school not having enough money to do much of anything other than buy football supplies because that’s all the town wants. It’s not exactly character development, but we get to see a few of the teachers show they care about being able to actually teach. So when the faculty start dropping like flies and assimilating to this new alien world order, we’re off and running. The faculty includes some flat out fantastic casting as well which should be noted. Coach Willis (Robert Patrick, Walk the Line) is the football coach, Mrs. Olsen (Piper Laurie, The Hustler) is the drama teacher, Miss Burke (Famke Jannsen, X-Men) teaches literature, Professor Furlong (Jon Stewart, Death to Smoochy) is biology, Mr. Knowles (Harry Knowles) teaches what we assume is film studies, Mr. Tate (Daniel Von Bargen, Super Troopers) is an alcoholic social studies instructor, while Valerie Drake (Beatrice “Bebe” Neuwirth, Cheers) heads up the group as the principal and Rosa Harper (Salma Hayek, Dogma) is the chronically ill nurse. Whew.
As the coach begins infecting the other faculty, a few of the students begin to realize something odd is happening and despite their differences they band together to try and survive while hopefully outsmarting their faculty. The casting is pretty well done with the kids, too. The bad boy of the group is Zeke (Josh Hartnett, Lucky Number Slevin) with an unfortunate haircut, the nerdy outsider Casey (Elijah Wood, Sin City), the reluctant jock Stan (Shawn Hatosy, Alpha Dog), the semi-goth pretend lesbian loner Stokely (Clea DuVall, Identity), the pretty and popular girl Delilah, (Jordana Brewster, The Fast and the Furious), along with the new girl, Marybeth (Laura Harris, Dead Like Me). It’s an odd group, for sure, but that’s the point, right? They all do a fine job of selling their high school angst, even if none of them are given much screen time devoted to their characters. There’s a few quips here and there that tell us most of what we need to know, but don’t mistake this for some character drama.
The different faculty members are the focus early on in the film with all of them having their chance to steal a little of the show. No one does this better, however, than Robert Patrick who really looks to be having a great time with his role. After Terminator 2 I get the sense he was type cast a little (even reprising his role for both Wayne’s World and Last Action Hero). He’s been getting regular work for many years now, but about the time The Faculty came out I think his career in Hollywood wasn’t a sure thing. If you’re a fan at all of the man, do yourself a favor and watch this film as soon as you can.
The second half of the film is devoted to the students and what they do with their situation. It becomes a little formulaic at this point, but the characters even point this out a number of times in the script with the references to science fiction tropes, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and even the X-Files. But that doesn’t keep the film from being fun, in fact the references help seal the deal as it becomes abundantly clear if it wasn’t already that this is an homage to the science fiction greats. There’s even a modern take on The Thing‘s blood test scene using caffeine powder instead of a blow torch.
Overall, The Faculty is fun. It doesn’t bring much of anything new to the genre, but it tips its hat in the right directions and doesn’t screw anything up in the process. The casting is sly and perhaps the best part of the whole experience. There are too many piss-poor horror films clogging up the production pipes and fortunately The Faculty rises above that generously enough to be memorable.
I’m not sure how to rate the video quality on this disc. While there were no problems with the image, I wasn’t blown away. Textures were apparent, detail is present, film grain seems intact, colors are satisfying, and blemishes are nowhere to be seen. But it sure doesn’t pop. That’s not to say it looks old at all. I can’t fault the image, but I sure can’t give it praise, either. At the very least you won’t find the image distracting in any sort of way. I guess you could call this transfer pedestrian. Perhaps the original film stock was less than perfect and the transfer is without flaw. You won’t be using this as a demo disc, but you probably weren’t thinking that would happen anyway.
The DTS-HD Master Audio lossless track included on the disc is satisfying. Again, this isn’t demo worthy, but the audio is better executed than the video presentation. Surrounds are used pretty well in the hallways and during the football game. Music can be a little hot but I enjoyed the soundtrack and found it hit all the right spots. Dialog is neutral and balanced, just the way it should be. The soundtrack is appropriate and often tongue in cheek along with the tone of the film (I particularly liked the rendition of David Bowie’s “Changes” during the credits).
Conclusion and Recommendation
This isn’t your typical high school fright fests, and that is due to the fantastic casting of the faculty and the deft handling of genre by Robert Rodriguez. While there are moments it is clear that Rodriguez is still learning his craft (some of the camera work is distinctly his) he knows what makes these types of films work. The use of music is always one of his strong points and it doesn’t disappoint here, even if I may be remembering my high school days through rose tinted glasses. If you’re a fan of any of the actors in this film, science fiction, The Thing, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, or The X-Files, and if you have a sense of humor, then how have you not already seen this film? Highly Recommended.
Conclusion: Highly Recommended.